Reid essays on the powers of the human mind

Thomas Reid founded the Scottish School of Common Sense, and promoted common sense as the true foundation of knowledge, which comes even before reason. By common sense, Reid refers to the things that all human beings know, and must know, in order to function. He defined six axioms, or pieces of knowledge that all humans posess, that are neccessary assumptions for any reasoning to take place. To Reid, no human being can honestly deny believing in these axioms:. Thomas Reid.

To show that he is right, Reid discusses the now famous case of the brave officer:. Suppose a brave officer to have been flogged when a boy at school, for robbing an orchard, to have taken a standard from the enemy in his first campaign, and to have been made a general in advanced life: Suppose also, which must be admitted to be possible, that when made a general he was conscious of his taking the standard, but had absolutely lost the consciousness of his flogging.

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These things being supposed, it follows, from Mr. When it follows, if there be any truth in logic, that the general is the same person with him who was flogged at school.

Therefore the general is, and at the same time is not the same person as him who was flogged at school. This case, which builds upon an objection raised by Joseph Butler , is supposed to show that personal identity, understood as consisting in memory, is not a consistent notion. Here is why: due to the transitivity of numerical identity, the old general should be numerically identical with the kid who was flogged for robbing an orchard.

Essays on the Powers of the Human Mind

This should follow, on the assumption that the kid who was flogged is numerically the same as the brave officer, who, in turn, is supposed to be numerically the same as the old general. Memory ensures that the boy who was flogged is the same as the brave officer, since the brave officer remembers that incident from his childhood. It ensures, moreover, that the general is the same as the brave officer, since the general remembers episodically that event from his youth. There are two possibilities: i either to explain personal identity without making recourse to numerical identity, since transitivity holds for numerical identity, but this example shows that transitivity fails for personal identity.

Reid chooses ii and argues that memory is neither necessary nor sufficient for personal identity. Memory is not a necessary condition for personhood, since during their lives, human beings witness or are the agents of many events of which they have no recollection at later moments of time. Neither is memory a sufficient condition for personal identity, according to Reid, since even though someone may be able to remember episodically that he was the agent or the witness of an event, it is not his remembering the event that makes it the case that he himself is the same person he was then.

Memory gives someone immediate knowledge of a past event that person was the witness to or agent of, but it does not ensure that that person was actually there at the time of the event.


  1. Essays on the Powers of the Human Mind - Thomas Reid, Dugald Stewart - Bok () | Bokus.
  2. briefly outline the case study method in psychology.
  3. metathesis balanced equation.

Due to this feature of identity, there is no way to think that mental states and processes remain identical over time:. Hence we may infer, that identity cannot, in its proper sense, be applied to our pains, our pleasures, our thoughts, or any operation of our minds. The pain felt this day is not the same individual pain which I felt yesterday, though they may be similar in kind and degree, and have the same cause.

The same may be said of every feeling, and of every operation of the mind: They are all successive in their nature like time itself, no two moments of which can be the same moment. Thus, Reid thinks that persons should not be identified with their thoughts or feelings, but with the subject of such thoughts and feelings, which remains the same over time.

The fourth Essay is dedicated to conception, whose primary role is to be an ingredient or concomitant in all other operations of the mind. In this picture, conception is being used as part of the endeavor to gain knowledge of the external world when it is employed by the senses , of the internal world when it is employed by consciousness , and also to analyze the complex relationships that exist among the objects of the world, among numbers in mathematics, and among rules of reasoning in logic.

As such, conception is a faculty that acts as a bridge, connecting the information gathered by the senses with the intellectual processing powers of judgment and reasoning. Since conception is a simple operation of the mind, it cannot be subjected to a reductive definition any more than the other operations can be. Our senses cannot give us the belief of any object, without giving some conception of it at the same time: No man can either remember or reason about things of which he hath no conception: When we will to exert any of our active powers, there must be some conception what we will to do: There can be no desire or aversion, love nor hatred, without some conception of the object: We cannot feel pain without conceiving it, though we can conceive it without feeling it.

References and further reading

These things are self-evident. EIP IV. As already pointed out, the argument that sensations must be intentional, and hence take themselves as objects, is based on this idea that every operation of the mind has conception as an ingredient. The passage quoted above can indeed be read as saying that one must conceive of the pain one is feeling at a given moment of time in order to actually be able to feel it.

In this interpretation, conception should be understood as the operation that allows beings endowed with this faculty to get acquainted with an object, be that object something that exists in the present, existed in the past, or will never exist. On the other side of this controversy are those authors who point out that it is rather counter-intuitive to believe that conception does not operate via concepts—after all, the name might be indicative of something here.

The role of conception, as an ingredient in all the other operations of the human mind, is to allow humans to secure a mental grip on something.

Thomas Reid (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy/Spring Edition)

Such a mental grip is secured by deploying a singular concept, understood to be something like a uniquely identifying definite description. In this interpretation, a being would not be able to have a sensation, a perception, or a memory unless it was able to deploy a singular concept, a uniquely identifying definite description isolating that thing in the world.

One of the most interesting features of bare conception is its ability to be used to think about objects without any heed being paid to their existence or non-existence, and also about propositions, without any judgment of their truth or falsity. In bare conception there can neither be truth nor falsehood, because it neither affirms nor denies. Every judgment, and every proposition by which judgment is expressed, must be true or false; and the qualities of true and false, in their proper sense, can belong to nothing but to judgments, or to propositions which express judgment.

In the bare conception of a thing there is no judgment, opinion, or belief included, and therefore it cannot be either true or false. Bare conception seems to require the mind of the conceiver to use certain concepts—simple terms—to bring forth objects to the mind in a way in which conception, when employed as an ingredient in other operations of the human mind, does not.

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This should not be surprising, though: once someone is able to think about something, even when he is not perceiving or remembering it, his mind will have established a certain grasp of that thing, classified and analyzed it, such that he will be able to think about it without using any of his other faculties. Ideas as acts of the mind.

Bare conception can be understood by analogy with painting, Reid argues, but he warns us that analogous thinking can take us only so far. To unpack this further, let us think about the elements involved in conceiving that the sun is yellow, for instance. Reid argues that in this act of conception, there are the following three elements: a mind, an act of conception that the sun is yellow, and the thing itself—the sun—external to the mind in question. Furthermore, he argues that there is something missing: an image in the mind, an additional representation, that has the explicit content of a yellow sun.

He is willing to assert that this is just a verbal dispute, if everyone else is willing to agree with him that these images in the mind, or ideas, are nothing more than acts of conceiving—a moot point, given that everyone else was dead at the point when he was writing, and no one could have agreed with him.

But, in effect, this is a serious conceptual point. The analogy with painting should help classify conceptions into three classes, according to Reid. Our conceptions, therefore, appear to be of three kinds: They are either the conceptions of individual things, the creatures of God; or they are conceptions of the meaning of general words; or they are the creatures of our own imagination. The first of these issues shows Reid to think that it is possible for fictional names to be used in the same way as regular names, even though the former category will be used to name nonexistents.

Centaurs, not centaur-inspired images or ideas, are the objects of such centaur thoughts. The only exception is constituted by a thought which is explicitly about a painting of a centaur, in which case it should be obvious to everyone that what is being conceived is an image, and not a mythological animal. This one object which I conceive [a centaur], is not the image of an animal, it is an animal.

I know what it is to conceive an image of an animal, and what it is to conceive an animal; and I can distinguish the one of these from the other without any danger of mistake. EIP , IV. Reid does not talk about different levels of existence; there is no doubt that centaurs do not exist as flesh-and-blood animals. It is important, however, to note that Reid ascribes intentionality to all the operations of the human mind, and this intentionality is to be resolved by understanding how conception works.

However, in the course of his analysis of conception, it becomes clear that imagination is not exactly the same thing as conception. Any conception is of the imaginative kind when it is lively and about possible objects of sense. One consequence is that people can never be said to imagine universals, or propositions; neither are people supposed to think that anyone is imagining objects of sense, when they are actually perceiving them.

A different kind of conception is responsible for the proper workings of perception. Reid dedicates two essays to the mental powers of judgment and reasoning with which he believes human beings to be endowed by nature. Essay VI, the one dedicated to judgment, presents the main elements of what Reid takes to be the philosophy of common sense. After a general introduction, in which he describes the fundamental characteristics of judgment, Reid argues that certain principles should be taken for granted as true. These are the first principles of common sense, which describe how the external and internal worlds work.

These principles are self-evident and as such their truth cannot be demonstrated through any kind of reasoning. In the following essay, dedicated to reasoning, Reid argues that it is the purview of this faculty to produce judgments, or to combine and analyze them, in two main ways: deductively or probably. In what follows, these issues are discussed in turn, by first explaining what Reid thought about judgment, and then providing a schematic account of how deductive reasoning is supposed to be applied to the class of necessary truths, while probable reasoning is supposed to be applied to the class of contingent truths.